Democratizing education

Meet Jack. Jack AndrakaJack is a 20 year old American from the town of Crownsville, Maryland.
When he was 13, a close family friend, who was like an uncle to Jack, passed away from pancreatic cancer.
This experience was devastating for Jack, and when he discovered that 85% of all pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed late like his uncle, he decided to take action.
Jack went online to learn more, to find out why so many suffer from this form of cancer, and to figure out how it can be prevented.
He used his two best online friends, Google and Wikipedia, to learn more about how pancreatic cancer is found and diagnosed. He discovered that it is found by looking at the bloodstream, and finding a miniscule difference in one protein out of countless proteins – much like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Jack spent several hundred hours researching and trying to understand what role these proteins played in pancreatic cancer, and finally, he found his protein.
The protein was called mesothelin, and it’s found in extraordinarily high levels in the bloodstream of patients with pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer.
His next step was to apply this discovery and create a way to detect the protein in potential cancer patients. It had to be convenient and inexpensive, and of course accurate, to enable early detection of pancreatic cancer to save lives.

A scientific breakthrough

Fast forward through a lot of time and hard work, and Jack managed to develop a first-version test for early detection of pancreatic cancer that was super cheap, effective and non-invasive. Great!
There was only one problem – or “a blemish on his amazing plan” as he called it.
He couldn’t really perfect and finalize the test by doing cancer research on his kitchen counter (at least his mom wasn’t too happy about that idea).
But being the problem-solver that he was, he figured out that all he needed was access to a real lab. So he typed up a budget, material list, timeline and a procedure, and sent it to about 200 professors. Then he leaned back, and waited for them to reply with claims of his geniality and offers of helpful resources.
But that wasn’t the case.
In fact, only one out of those 200 contacts replied that he would like to help Jack out.
Luckily, that one person took Jack into his lab, and fast-forward seven more months, Jack had developed a test for pancreatic cancer that made it 168 times faster, over 26,000 times less expensive, and over 400 times more sensitive than our current standard for pancreatic cancer detection.

The one thing that almost kept Jack from making a scientific breakthrough

Believe it or not, this is a true story. This story ended quite happily. But it could very easily not have.
There was one thing that almost kept Jack from making this scientific breakthrough. And that was the fact that he did not have access to a real laboratory because he was too young and inexperienced to be allowed in to one.
We encounter this issue a lot in science, and it’s quite the chicken and the egg problem: If you’re too inexperienced to get access to a lab, but need to have access to a lab to get experience – then where does that leave you? Certainly not with a lot of scientific breakthroughs.
This is the problem we’re trying to solve at Labster.

Increasing access to labs

“Imagine if we could bring Ivy League, billion dollar, virtual laboratories to students just like Jack, all around the world. It may just be that one thing that empowers and inspires a whole new generation of bright, young scientists to innovate and change the world.” Those were the words Labster co-founder Michael Bodekaer spoke just two short years ago at TEDxCERN.
We’re working towards making that dream a reality every day.
At Labster, we have been working towards making our lab simulations available to students for quite a while, and with a growing team and proven support throughout the field of education internationally, we’re getting closer and closer to our goal.

On a mission to democratize education

Democratizing education is about increasing access to education and providing opportunities for as many people as possible.
Just as Mark Zuckerberg is working on the goal of “making virtual reality accessible to everyone”, we are working on the goal of making science education accessible to everyone.
With Labster’s simulations, all users need is a computer and an internet connection to access STEM curricula. This short list of requirements enables a whole lot of people to learn about STEM subjects.
Democratizing education is also about giving the student the power to learn whatever, however, whenever and wherever it suits them.
That means putting the student’s education in their own hands. That’s not to say you leave them on their own. But you give them the opportunity to learn at their own pace, and to do it as a result of their own intrinsic motivation. It’s about providing support and facilitating their development in order to motivate them to learn.
In other words, it’s about empowering them to fulfill their own potential.

How online virtual learning is helping to democratize education

There are three ways in particular that online virtual labs are helping democratize education

  1. They are fit for a modern, increasingly technical world, where there are endless opportunities for what technology can do and much to be leveraged.
  2. They provide a personalized and customized approach to learning, taking individual learning styles and speeds into account.
  3. They empower students and teachers by inspiring them to think differently about when, where and how education takes place – ultimately revolutionizing the way we think about education.

Watch Jack Andraka’s TED talk below to get his full story on how he created the test for pancreatic cancer or watch Michael Bodekaer’s talk to learn more about how Labster hopes to revolutionize education.

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University of Florida

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